Pictures at an Exhibition

This week I went to the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. It's a unique exhibition, as it gives relatively unknown artists the opportunity to be exhibited alongside some of the heavyweights of the art world. It's also wonderfully diverse: painting, sculpture, drawings, prints, photography, architectural models, installations and prices ranging from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Wandering the galleries, it struck me that visiting an exhibition (especially one as varied as the one at the RA) is an excellent way to learn, naturally and instinctively, more about yourself.

What do I mean?

I noticed that I was instinctively drawn to certain types of subject matter. Regardless of the media, it was the artworks that depicted people – particularly those with some sort of obscure back-story – that attracted me most. This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise: my work as a coach is based on a love of people and is all about finding out more about their stories and helping them to realise the best of themselves.

But I was intrigued to notice that I was also drawn to pictures of trees. I adore trees and, if I had my life to live again, perhaps I'd have chosen to work with wood in some way. This was the light-bulb moment when I realised how personally revealing an exhibition can be and how it could throw light on future career choices.

One of the challenges I work on with clients is to figure out what kind of work they will find satisfying and enjoyable. There are lots of 'thinking' exercises they can work through to come up with ideas of what they'll enjoy, what they're naturally good at and what will make them happy.

But it struck me that wandering around an exhibition and simply noticing what you're attracted to might be an instinctive – and much more fun – way to uncover some ideas.

I tried out my theory on my brother and sister as we sat with a coffee after visiting the exhibition. My brother was attracted to landscapes, which absolutely complements his love of the countryside and long distance walking. My sister said that she had been drawn to the abstract pieces, which was a surprise to her as this wasn't normally the case. At first she struggled to make a connection and then realised that in fact she is entering a more cerebral phase of her life and thinking about things in a more abstract way.


So as we roll into summer, and if you're searching for clues about what makes you tick, why not take in an exhibition or two. Notice what you're drawn to. After all, what we find interesting in art may be an indication, at the most basic and fundamental level, of who we are.

© Annabel Sutton, Coaching Tips – 2011

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